Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wilbur Ross on European Opportunities



Wilbur Ross is interviewed on CNBC's Squawk Box August 14, 2012

Rough transcript of interview:

Joe Kernen: Restructuring legend Wilbur Ross is here and goes all over the place in search of opportunity, back from a fresh trip to Greece, joins us for the next two hours. Wilbur, it's been probably, has it been six months since I've seen you?

Wilbur Ross: A few months, maybe three or four.

Joe Kernen: Three or four months, and it's great at this point in time just to hear where you are on things like housing and europe and everything else. In looking at some of the things you said in the preinterview, we were hoping maybe the continent was improving a little. In your view as far as Greece goes we don't know how bad it actually is?

Wilbur Ross: I think the continent in general is improving quite a bit. the french gdp figures that were just released for the second quarter were not bad at all. germany was a little bit better than expected, and those are two very big engines. greece is obviously very small, less than 2% of europe, but my take of it, from a trip there, it's really worse than i had felt that it was. greece? greece. what'd you see? makeshift mosques being put up in the streets in athens by some of these illegal immigrants. there are apparently half a million albanian muslims who are illegal immigrants there, and they naturally want to practice their faith, so they're kind of constructing mosques in the street. you were prowling around in athens or what? looking for a deal? i don't like to call it prowling. looking for a deal, did you pick anything up? no. because the falling knife has not finished falling? hasn't started falling. they announced they were going to do privatization. they were going to take private 32 pieces of real estate, of which 28 they're going to lease back. that's not really the privatization. that gives you a little pop in the front, and now for years and years, you pay rent. is this all business? i mean were you going to which island? i went to a friend of mine has a little island. has an island? yes, yes. number of the shipowners have islands. there's a lot of islands. he doesn't own roads or anything, does he? no. the other thing that i noticed is that some of the local politicians are starting to play the ethnic card on germany. there's obviously a lot of resentment in greece to what happened in world war ii and some of the local p politicians are piling in it's not just the eu, it's the germans being mean. are they using the nazi word? has it gone that bad yesterday? i haven't heard the nazi word but my greek isn't that good, so i don't know. you don't know, so that's interesting. so it's actually getting personal between greece and germany at this point. at least some of the local politicians. i haven't heard it from the national politicians and the other part, there's almost a feeling of resignation both among the sort of people on the street and the wealthy people that eventually greece doesn't stay in the eu. is that your bet now, now that you've been there on the ground? i've been in favor of greece going out. frankly, both from the greek point of view and from the eu point of view. from the eu point of view, i think there are enough firewalls that have been built up particularly now that mario draghi is now really acting like the lender of last resort but i don't think it would be that traumatic anymore. most of the indebtedness of greece is official debt, no longer private debt so you don't have the domino problem. we'll come back to us because you said positive things initially about france looking backwards. looking forwards i bet you're worried with 75% of the wealth tax in hollande and the moves he's making. even worse with the 75% on the high bracket people he did away with one of the good reforms that sarkozy put in, namely sarkozy to encourage people to work more than 35 hours, said your overtime would be tax free. he repealed that. well that's a middle class tax increase. it's the last thing france.

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